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Boycott Shuts Down Haiti Elections

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Issue: 62 Section: Foreign Policy Geography: Latin America Haiti Topics: elections

August 15, 2009

Boycott Shuts Down Haiti Elections

Leading political party excluded from polls again

by Kevin Pina

Poll workers nap as voters stay away from the elections after Fanmi Lavalas called a boycott. Photo: Jean Ristil

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI—A second successful boycott of Senate elections, called by Haiti's Fanmi Lavalas party, poses a serious challenge to the credibility of their results, says a spokeperson for the Lavalas party. President Rene Preval's handpicked Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) barred Fanmi Lavalas from participation in the elections—held in April and June of 2009—on a technicality.

The June 21 boycott called for by Lavalas was called "Operation Closed Door 2." The campaign urged voters to stay away from the polls. Rene Civil, one of the leaders of the boycott campaign, stated, "They have to hold the elections again and allow Fanmi Lavalas to participate or face having a parliament that is not recognized as legitimate by the Haitian people. They will swear [the newly elected officials] into office but no one is going to take them seriously."

Buses and taxis operated throughout election day, unlike during the first round of Senate elections held April 19. Most voters did not take advantage of the lifting of the transportation ban and stayed home. Journalists in Haiti's nine departments provided reports throughout the day of napping poll workers and near-empty ballot boxes.

Brazilian ambassador Igor Kipman arrived with a group of observers at a large polling station on the outskirts of the sprawling pro-Lavalas slum of Cite Soleil. Kipman's menacing security staff and the visiting observers stood virtually alone in the facility as the ambassador commented, "These are great elections. I'm very happy with today's results."

Canadian Ambassador Gilles Rivard, who at one point made a mild call for political reconciliation with regard to Lavalas' exclusion, told Agence Haitien Presse (AHP) that he considered the elections legitimate.

The last time the party was allowed to participate in an election—in 2000—Fanmi Lavalas won 73 out of 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 26 out of 27 seats in the Senate. In the same election, Lavalas Presidential candidate Jean-Bertrand Aristide won with 91.81 per cent of the vote. The Lavalas-led government was removed by a coup d'état backed by Canada, France and the United States. Aristide was removed from office and forced into exile, and a campaign of violence and intimidation forced most Lavalas members into hiding or exile.

AHP summed up the situation, "Indeed, the election was marked by very low participation, perhaps more pronounced than in the first round at the national level. On 19 April, the Electoral Council had tried to explain the success of the first boycott by threats allegedly made against the elections, or because the transit system was not authorized."

This analysis stood in contrast to the official English report of the elections provided by the Associated Press, which sought to downplay the effect of the boycott. "Haitians fed up with chronic poverty and unresponsive leaders stayed away from Senate run-off elections Sunday, ignoring government efforts to improve on the paltry voter turnout that undercut the first round of voting in April."

Brazilian ambassador Igor Kipman tries to put an upbeat spin on the elections while being interviewed in an empty polling station. Photo: Ronald Fareau

The Portuguese language daily Folha repeated assertions made by CEP president Gerard Frantz Verret that protesters handed out threatening leaflets during the funeral of popular Catholic priest and Lavalas supporter Father Gerard Jean-Juste. The CEP official claimed that the leaflets "contained death threats against citizens who dare to vote."

While no leaflet was presented to back up the claim, Verret also demanded that the Ministry of Justice take "public action in motion against all those who undertake to invite the people to abstain from voting and against those who intend to endanger lives and property." The move was widely seen as an attempt to intimidate members of the Lavalas Mobilization Commission—the organizers of the boycott—ahead of last Sunday's election.

The sporadic violence and clashes between Preval's ruling Lespwa party and its rivals at the polls were unrelated to the non-violent election boycott called by Fanmi Lavalas.

The June 21 election was preceded by an incident on June 18 involving UN forces during the funeral procession of Father Jean-Juste. Witnesses reported that Brazilian soldiers with the UN military mission opened fire after attempting to arrest one of the mourners. A second mourner was killed and the UN has since denied the shooting, claiming that the victim had been killed by either a rock thrown by the crowd or by a blunt instrument. Eyewitnesses and reporters on the scene have countered that the UN is trying to cover up the affair and that the victim was felled by a shot fired by Brazilian soldiers as mourners left Haiti's national cathedral.

The international community and most notably the Obama administration financed and endorsed the controversial Senate elections. While exact figures are difficult to obtain, it is estimated that the two rounds of Senate elections cost over $17 million. Among Haiti's nine million inhabitants, the average wage is estimated to be below $2 per day.

Kevin Pina is a journalist and filmmaker who has been covering events in Haiti since 1991. A version of this article previously appeared on HaitiAction.net.

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